Plummeting levels of registered Republicans in California and a Democratic-controlled legislature have weakened and destabilized a sputtering GOP in the Golden State. However, the March 2014 GOP convention in Burlingame, California sought to strengthen a party that’s become increasingly divided due to Tea Party influence, tired traditionalists, and frustrated voters.
Republicans at the convention touted the premise of “rebuild, renew, reclaim,” as speakers like former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and RNC Chairman Reince Priebus spoke to attendees about the long-term goals for the party. Vice Chairwoman Harmeet Dhillon admitted that the party had been “decimated,” and that party leaders were interested in long-term growth, rather than winning the entire state in the 2014 midterm elections.
Encouraging Recent Growth
Despite the public assumption that California is a “blue” state, there are signs of positive growth for the California GOP. The new mayor of San Diego, Kevin Faulconer, is a Republican and won a special election even though San Diego has many more Democrats than Republicans. This vital win for the GOP is an encouraging sign that Republicans can win seats and elections despite high concentrations of Democrat voters in battleground districts.
Another encouraging and hard-fought win occurred in 2013 during a special election for the state senate. Republican Andy Vidak won with 51.9% of the vote after the first vote was too close to call and triggered a general election. Vidak’s win marks the first time since 1996 that a special election for the Senate resulted in a party change for the seat.
The Problem of Democrat Majority
The Democrats hold so many seats in the Assembly and Senate that they can pass bills to raise taxes even if every voting Republican votes “nay.” To destroy this “supermajority,” Republicans need to pick up a few Assembly seats and at least one Senate seat. These gains won’t give the GOP anything close to a majority, but it will be more difficult for Democrats to push their agenda.
Governor’s Race an Uphill Battle
Unfortunately, Governor Jerry Brown has several million dollars ready for the next Governor’s race, which is proving to be one of the biggest hurdles facing the Republican Party. So far, fundraising for Republican candidates in small races across the state has been healthy, but money set aside for the governor’s race has been nothing short of anemic. Candidates have had a tough time gaining traction, especially with fundraising events.
In addition, there is little agreement between two of the party’s prominent candidates for governor. Tim Donnelly is a favorite of the bombastic Tea Party while Neel Kashkari sits closer to the center. The differences in Donnelly’s extremism and Kashkari’s moderate platform are representative of the party as a whole, nationwide. Republicans are divided, and it’s proving to be incredibly difficult to bring anyone together on the same page.
Sustained Division Hurting the Party
It’s clear that Republicans today have a fractured party in much of the country. Vibrant, enthusiastic members of the GOP who want to fuel rebranding efforts are finding it difficult in the face of traditionalists on one hand, and Tea Party radicals on the other. Races are rarely won by candidates who are too radical, and a party soaked in traditionalism isn’t attractive to young, undecided voters.
Nobody wants to vote for a party that has no clear future and is full of testy arguments and internal strife. If the GOP wants to convince Californians that Republicans are the party of prosperity, personal achievement, and fiscal responsibility, candidates are going to need to come together and unite. The GOP can be the party of California, but it’s going to take cooperation and teamwork on an inspiring level.